Follow these 10 simple tips to help holiday insomnia. To help reduce the stress, worry and overindulgence that can rob you of sleep and dampen your holiday spirit.
Watch our video Help Holiday Insomnia.
From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, it’s game on. You run yourself ragged, trying to cram as much holiday cheer, shopping, and cooking as you can in a short time. Combined with your daily responsibilities, it’s enough to make you lose sleep — and it usually does — turning you from a Happy Elf into more of a Grinch. So I put together these 10 tips to help holiday insomnia.
As a medical director of a large sleep health practice and a mother of two boys, the things dancing in my head while I’m trying to go to sleep are not visions of sugar plums; it’s more likely worry over how to get everything done.
There are a few tricks I have learned as a sleep doctor to help you snooze better during those holiday insomnia bouts.
1. Get ahead of the holidays
Don’t put off the tasks you need to do to prepare for the holidays until the last minute. When we procrastinate, our list of tasks continues to build and then we try to get them all done at the same time. That creates stress, which is a huge cause of sleep deprivation. To avoid that, consider getting a jump start on your holiday planning. Make a list of all the things that need to be done and put them on your smartphone’s calendar for days when you have free time. Soon you’ll be checking items off.
2. Don’t overload yourself
Divide and conquer tasks. Make the holiday tasks and chores a family affair, have a cookie making party with friends and family, invite your siblings or other distant relatives along to make shopping fun, and order things online so you don’t have to circle around yet again for a parking space at the store. If you are doing well with checking things off your list, reward yourself with something soothing like a massage. What may have been a stressful situation can now be less stressful and a family bonding experience.
3. Keep your regular bedtime and wake up time
Our schedules often become erratic during the holiday season and late night parties make sleeping in an appealing temptation. When you sleep in, it makes it more difficult to fall asleep that night. You need to wake up and go to bed at the same time for your “sleep drive” to stay high throughout the week. If you plan to be out at a late night party, then try to limit your bedtime to no more than an hour off your regular schedule. Studies have shown that keeping our schedules in sync with our biological clocks or circadian rhythm is critical to maintaining optimum health. Research has shown that women who have a consistent wake time have a lower percentage of body fat and it may help avoid those added holiday pounds.
4. Keep exercising and go outside
Routine exercise and exposure to natural light are the greatest promoters for good sleep, ways to reduce stress and improve your mood. Regular physical exercise improves quality in healthy sleepers and people with insomnia. If you’re traveling over the holidays, it’s a great time to bond with relatives or friends at the gym or on the yoga mat. It’s also a great time to add variety to your exercise. Try snowshoeing, skiing, ice skating, or just playing in the snow with the kids.
5. Schedule 15 minutes of ‘worry time’ 2 to 3 hours before bedtime
Write down your thoughts, your to-do list, problems and possible solutions to confront worry at a set time for a few minutes each evening. This way, it’s less likely those problems will awake you at 3 a.m. Scheduling your worry can actually train your brain that the time to worry is done when it’s time to rest and sleep.
6. Avoid excessive snacking or big meals late at night
This may be one of the hardest tips on the list to stick to over the holidays. After all, with all the party food, wonderful treats and delicious snacks you received for gifts it may be hard not to imbibe too much or too late. Stay away from foods high in sugar and fat and eliminate caffeine after 3 p.m. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts and whole grains. Avoid big snacks late at night. When your body has to focus more energy on processing three pieces of pecan pie, it takes away from your body repairing itself and refreshing itself during sleep. Try eating a bowl of cereal with milk or milk and crackers before sleeping.
7. Don’t overdo the alcohol
Having a glass of wine at dinner or at a holiday event and a champagne toast at midnight are fine, but try to not overindulge. Studies have shown that while a “nightcap” can induce sleep onset, as the body metabolizes the alcohol, it ultimately ends up disrupting sleep later in the night. Plan to have and stick to having two or less drinks. Drinking more cocktails can really impair your sleep, not to mention your next day. Try to avoid drinking approximately two to three hours before bedtime for best results.
8. All is calm at bedtime
During the holidays, turn your typical bedtime routine into something enjoyable for the whole family. Instead of watching TV, try playing some games with the kids or engage in relaxing activities. Board games or card games are always a great family activity that encourages togetherness.
Other relaxing activities can include reading holiday books, gathering for stories around the fire, baking cookies or holiday treats. Whatever activities you choose, make sure they’re relaxing and not too stimulating.
9. Turn off the electronics and the Christmas lights before bedtime
Watching TV, using computers, cell phones, e-readers, portable game systems, and other electronic devices emit a light that our brains interpret as similar to daylight. This interpretation can cause a delay in the production of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Also, while we all love the glow of holiday lights, you may want to turn them off at bedtime. The lights may shine through your windows or your neighbors’ windows and disrupt sleep.
10. Fretting or stewing while trying to sleep
If you can’t fall asleep, wake up or fall back to sleep, try getting out of bed. Clinicians call this “stimulus control.” The cognitive behavioral exercise allows you to associate your bed with sleep instead of worry, frustration and stress. Just don’t get up clean the house, fold laundry, or catch up on emails. Instead, do something to divert your attention, such as reading a book, writing in a journal, listening to calming music, taking a warm bath and drinking some calming tea. The concept is to do something until you feel sleepy again. Then, you return to bed and fall asleep.
If you’re still grappling with sleep after practicing these tricks, there’s a chance your sleep troubles may run deeper and could be a medical issue. Make it your New Year’s resolution to get diagnosed and treated for any possible sleep disorder. If you or a loved one is having a sleep issue, our team at Comprehensive Sleep Care Center would be happy to help you.
Call now to schedule your consult at 703-729-3420 or go online at www.comprehensivesleepcare.com.